For most of his childhood, Deonte Moss was told that he’d never amount to much because of where he came from and what he’d been through.
In his neighborhood, black boys were more likely to join a gang or get shot than graduate from high school.
“My life was so bad, that I didn’t think I could go anywhere,” said Mr. Moss, 28. “But when I got with positive people, they told me I could still be somebody, that my parents’ mistakes didn’t define me. Once I started to believe that, everything changed.”
Mr. Moss now shares those lessons that changed his life with students at Leverette Elementary, where he works as a behavior coach. Once known for fighting at school, Mr. Moss works with students to reinforce good behavior and help them make good choices. His goal is to reduce suspensions and other general behavioral issues at school.
“When I started six years ago, there had been over 300 acts of violence at the school,” Mr. Moss said. “Last year we had eight.”
Behavior coach positions are fairly new, with much of the work consisting of conflict resolution, peer mediation, and acting as a liaison between teachers, students, and parents.
“Sometimes we have teachers and students who don’t understand each other, because they come from different dynamics,” Mr. Moss said. “There may be a kid who falls asleep in class, but not because he/she is being lazy or disrespectful, but it could be because mom wasn’t home last night and the kid had to baby sit. The teacher may not understand that because she doesn’t come from that dynamic. That’s where I come in and try to figure out what’s going on.”
Always striving to lead by example, Mr. Moss models the behaviors he wants his students to emulate. Before he enters the blue and gold hallways of the school, he puts on his sport coat.
“A lot of the students have told me they hadn’t ever seen a black man dressed up. Had never seen one in a tie,” said Mr. Moss, a husband, father of two, and foster parent. “They appreciate seeing something different, so much that some of them have started wearing ties to school, and they always make sure I see them.”
Mr. Moss has a case load of 30 students with whom he meets regularly to work on positive behavior, social graces, and class lessons. He is the school dodge ball coach and runs Press Play, an after-school club that brings students and teachers together in a fun, playful atmosphere. He also does crisis intervention, working with students to resolve problems before they escalate out of control.
“Teachers can’t always handle issues right away, so the student is sent to the office, where they get detention or they get suspended,” Mr. Moss said. “I’m not a disciplinarian. I can’t suspend anybody, but what I can do is build relationships with them, so that they want to talk to me. It’s proactive coaching, because the goal is to keep them in school. For some of them, it’s the only way out.”
The work comes naturally for Mr. Moss, who can relate first-hand to many of his students. He also had behavior issues, which got him in trouble at school and eventually expelled.
A Toledo native, Mr. Moss was born to a drug-addicted mother and drug-dealing father. At age 3, his mother dropped him and his younger sisters off with their grandmother and didn’t return for years.
By age 8, he was in foster care and separated from his sisters. At his first foster home, he didn’t speak, but by the time he’d reached his third home, he’d finally started to open up. Then his foster mom died.
“I was mad,” Mr. Moss said. “I lived in 10 foster homes and four group homes. I was angry.”
Goofing off in school was the only way Mr. Moss knew how to cope. His used jokes to gain popularity and distract himself from what was going on at home.
“I was the class clown. I would do anything to make people laugh,” he said. “If I made you laugh, we were friends, and if we were friends, you wouldn’t talk about me or my family.”
After three years in ninth grade, Mr. Moss was expelled from TPS. He transferred to Springfield High School where his grades improved and he graduated after just two years.
Mr. Moss, who had been in trouble with the juvenile justice system, completed several court-ordered programs with high honors. He studied broadcast communications at the University of Toledo, where he participated in study abroad opportunities. As a teen, he was taken in by one of his mentors, who he credits with helping him get on the right track.
“I graduated high school with a 0.07 [grade point average] and it took me five years to do it,” Mr. Moss said. “I’m using my story to teach these kids that there will be bumps in the road along the way. You may even fall off, but if you get back up and keep trying, you’ll get there.
“I know they have a lot going on at home. I get it. I’ve been there,” Mr. Moss added. “I’m just doing for them what was done for me.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.